For the next few weeks UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari has asked Kosovar Albanian and Serbian negotiators to revisit face to face in Vienna the elements of his “Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement,” before he makes his final recommendations to the UN Security Council in late March. On February 20, Ahtisaari told a meeting of the permanent council of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that, “It regrettably appears highly unlikely that the two parties will be able to reach a compromise on the Kosovo status.” It is difficult to believe that Ahtisaari ever thought that Serbs and Albanians could agree on a mutually acceptable resolution for Kosova, given Serbian attempts in the 20 th century to occupy, expel, and kill Albanians.
The Ploys behind the Serbian Rejection
Capping months of intransigence, the Serbian parliament voted overwhelmingly on February 14 to reject the Ahtisaari proposal, and passed a resolution stating that it “illegally lays the foundation for the creation of a new independent state on the territory of Serbia.” President Vojislav Kostunica reiterated his call for cutting off diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Kosova’s independence. The international community should now realize that its decision last fall to postpone final status resolution until after the Serbian elections on January 21 had no impact whatsoever on the resolution of final status. All Serbian political parties, with the exception of the small Liberal Democratic Party led by Cedomir Jovanovic, oppose the independence of Kosova. Led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, the Radicals won, contrary to the West’s insistence that democratic forces would triumph if Kosova was taken off the front burner. In reality, Belgrade’s call to delay final status resolution until after the elections was a trick to buy time to accelerate its multimillion dollar lobbying effort in Washington and in Brussels to damage the image of the Albanian people and to weaken Western support for Kosova’s independence.
Belgrade’s refusal to accept the Ahtisaari proposal is also a ploy—one that is meant to create the illusion of Serbia as a victim. Nothing could be further from the truth since the Ahtisaari proposal gives Serbia what it really wants: a Kosova with “more than autonomy and less than independence” through a decentralization plan that will enable Belgrade to maintain control over Kosova Serbs and keep Kosova destabilized with the goal of ultimately regaining control over part or all of its territory. Serbian rejection of the Ahtisaari plan is a new stratagem for putting pressure on the international community to gain more concessions from Albanians during the “final round” of negotiations.
On the other hand, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku has “accepted” the Ahtisaari proposal, at the insistence of the United States, which Albanians embrace as their savior from Slobodan Milosevic’s decade-long occupation and genocidal war. Ceku and the rest of Kosovar Albanian society have been led to believe that the plan will bring about de facto independence under international supervision. In any event, they have been instructed that Albanian acceptance of the Ahtisaari proposal is essential to insuring Kosova’s recognition by the international community.
The Ahtisaari Plan Will Never Bring Independence to Kosova
Although the general provisions of Ahtisaari’s proposal for Kosova outline all the trappings of a progressive, democratic, system, Kosova can never achieve independence under the current plan, because the “devil is in the details” of the twelve annexes that elaborate its principles.
The worst provision of the Ahtisaari plan (which refers to Serbs 93 times, the international community 133 times, and Albanians once) establishes direct and strong links between Kosova Serb municipalities and Belgrade. This includes the right of Kosova Serbs to receive non-taxable funds from Serbia on top of funding from Kosova’s central government and an “extraterritoriality” and tax-free status for the Serbian Orthodox Church. In addition to six Serb municipalities that are tied together horizontally and vertically to Belgrade, forty-five churches and monasteries have been designated as “protective zones.” Any funding for Serb municipalities should be via the central government, and any status for one religious institution should apply to all religions.
In a country that is 92 percent Albanian with 8 percent minorities, including 5 to 6 percent Serbs, the Ahtisaari plan allows for a kind of “double affirmative action plan” for Kosova Serbs that has no counterparts in the rest of the world. Out of 120 seats in parliament, twenty will be reserved for minorities, ten of which are for Serbs, on top of any seats gained through elections. Most important, any amendment to the constitution will require the approval of two-thirds of the minority members. This means that the Ahtisaari plan effectively allows the minority members, specifically the Serbs, to control the laws and political future of the majority. Since nothing in the constitution can be changed without the vote of two-thirds of the minorities, nothing will ever change—including recognizing Kosova as a sovereign state, even if other countries do on a bilateral basis.
How can a proposal that weakens the capacity of Kosova’s central government to govern its territory and facilitates all sorts of special legal and extra-legal arrangements between Belgrade and Serb municipalities lead to peace and stability in Kosova and in Southeast Europe? How can such a plan ensure that Mitrovica and the rest of the north will remain an integral part of Kosova, when Kosova has no real sovereignty to begin with?
The Ahtisaari plan also provides for a prolonged international presence in the form of an international military presence of indeterminate duration and an “International Civilian Office,” whose representative will take over authority from the UN and have sweeping powers over every aspect of life in Kosova. The international representative will have the power to “sanction and remove any public official” and to annul any decisions or legislation that violate “the letter or spirit of the settlement.” Under these terms, how can the Ahtisaari plan purport to lead to a sustainable settlement and a “democratic” Kosova?
Failure on the part of Albanian negotiators in Vienna to challenge the most egregious provisions of the plan will result in a final draft that favors Serbia even more and that traps Kosova in a permanent, Bosnia-style aid-dependent state to the detriment of Kosova, the region, and the rest of Europe.
The West Appeases Belgrade Once Again
In the final analysis, Ahtisarri’s proposal cannot work on the ground, and it cannot redeem the West’s long years of blood and expenditure in the Balkans, because to a great extent it is based on the assumptions underlying the West’s failed foreign policy approach to the former Yugoslavia since its disintegration began in the late 1980s. That approach has consisted of wooing Serbia out of the misguided belief that it is the future political and economic engine of Southeast Europe, instead of demanding that Serbia stop exploiting the Kosova issue, break from its horrific past, and become a genuine democracy.
Last November, in a stunning reversal of the West’s prerequisite that Belgrade must first turn over Bosnian Serb commanders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, NATO admitted Serbia to its Partnership for Peace Program—the first step towards full admission to the military alliance. The Bush administration’s National Security Council had supported the decision over the objections of the State Department, which then opened the way for a historically fractured European Union to take sides.
Just a week ago, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, EU Enlargement Commisioner Ollie Rehn said that, “I want to work with a new reform-oriented Serbian government, committed to making a new start in European integration. The new government deserves a new chance and a new beginning to return to the European path and make up for lost time.” Then, on February 19, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recommended that Serbia be offered admission to the European Union, because “if we do not offer Serbia a European option, we run the risk of seeing the country sink back into nationalism. And then Serbia could block a solution for Kosova.” But Serbia has yet to relinquish its nationalism, and bolstering the illusion of Serbia as a democracy is a disservice to everyone—including Serbia’s genuine democrats and Kosovar Serbs, whose constructive reintegration into Kosova society has been opposed by Belgrade at every step of the way.
To fulfill the need for genuine reform in Serbia and Kosovar Albanian yearnings for a future independent state, it is essential to recognize the brutality of the past. Milosevic’s military and paramilitary forces invaded Kosova in 1989, violently disbanding its legally elected assembly, firing almost all Albanians, putting thousands through police procedures, closing Albanians schools and media, and replacing the Albanian language with Serbian. Ten years of brutal occupation followed, culminating in genocidal warfare from 1998-1999, in which more than 10,000 Kosovar Albanians were killed, thousands more arrested and tortured, and close to one million displaced. Serbia was the perpetrator of this state-sponsored terrorism and as a result, morally and legally, lost any claim to sovereignty over Kosova at war’s end. Instead of pandering to Serbia, the West should insist that it publicly apologize to Kosova and Bosnia for its genocidal wars in the 1980s and 1990s, abandon its claims to Kosova, and then transform itself into a modern democracy. This should be the point of departure for Kosova’s final status resolution.
The Threat of a Russian Veto is a Smoke Screen
Russia’s threat of vetoing any resolution in the UN Security Council that recognizes Kosova as a “second Albanian state” (while demanding recognition of pro-Russian regions in Moldova and Georgia if that happens) is purported to be a major reason for the breakdown in US and EU resolve to back an independent Kosova outright. But it is disingenuous at best for the West to claim Russia’s position as an obstruction. Russia, historically allied to Serbia, has repeatedly voiced its opposition to Kosova’s independence since the end of the 1999 war. Even still, Washington has predicted for months that Russia will abstain when Kosova comes up for a vote at the United Nations. But, no matter how Russia votes, it will not matter, because the Ahtisaari proposal leaves recognition of Kosova’s independence up to individual countries.
If Washington and the EU would recognize Kosova’s independence in name and fact, while retaining limited oversight with NATO troops on the ground, Serbian and Russian interference would come to an end, and Kosova would be on the path to becoming a viable and peaceful state. But this has not happened because behind the specifics of the Ahtisaari plan—a plan that dramatically reduces the prospects for an independent Kosova—lies the success of Belgrade’s lobby since war’s end, with support from Russia and Greece, in miscasting Kosovar Albanians as a Muslim, potentially terrorist, force in the heart of Europe that must be controlled. In other words, anti-Albanian racism continues to be the unspoken dynamic behind the final status process.
Pandering to Serbian efforts to miscast the Balkan conflict as a religious one would be a grave mistake—especially because the Kosovars, like other Albanians, are Muslim, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians who have lived side by side in harmony for centuries. They are also the most pro-Western, pro-American, pro-democratic force in Southeast Europe. In the aftermath of 9/11, while thousands of Slavs and Greeks were dancing in the streets, Albanians in Kosova and throughout the Balkans were holding candlelight vigils in tears outside of U.S. embassies and posting billboards stating “We are with You.”
Recognizing Kosova’s Independence Now is Key
Seven years of political, economic, and social limbo have brought Kosova to the brink. It is in the vital interests of the West to help Kosova become a fully independent state with a seat at the United Nations now. Only in this way can Kosova and its neighbors move forward to achieve regional peace and prosperity and European integration. The Ahtisaari proposal as it currently reads is going in the wrong direction. It continues to appease Serbia, and it will turn Kosova into a marginal state hostage once again to hostile Slavic racism and vulnerable to a new cycle of violence.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League
New York, February 22, 2007